The humble guitar pick is an essential part of most guitarists' arsenal, yet it's often overlooked. Simply changing which plectrum you use can have a drastic change on the tone you produce, not to mention your playing style. We've put some of the best guitar picks for electric guitar, acoustic guitar and bass guitar to the test to help find the ideal fit for you.
You'll also find handy buying advice on everything from shape, size and material, so you can make an informed decision on what the best guitar pick is for you.
Best guitar picks: MusicRadar’s Choice
Ultimately there is no rule when choosing which plectrum is right for you, it's a personal preference. With that being said, we can give you general pointers. For acoustic players, or if you find yourself strumming a lot, we recommend the classic Dunlop Nylon Standard plectrum. This durable pick comes in many gauges (.38, .46, .60, .73, .88, 1.0MM), but we suggest starting with the .60 as it's not too thick, not too thin.
For more general uses, then you can't go wrong with the Dunlop Tortex Standard plectrum. These are the most popular plectrums in the world for a good reason. They offer a balanced tone and comfortable grip.
We would recommend trying Gravity picks for the more advanced player looking for something a little different. These acrylic plectrums offer superb durability and a bright, articulate sound. They range in size from 1.5mm to 3.0mm, so you'll be sure to find one to fit your needs.
Best guitar picks: Product guide
First intended as a replacement for tortoiseshell (hence the tortoise design) Tortex picks were launched way back in 1981. Their durability, flexibility and bright attack have ensured they remain the industry standard today. Dunlop’s colour-coding system makes it easy to find replacements for your preferred gauge, which range from .50mm (red) up to 1.14mm (purple).
Fender makes a surprisingly wide range of picks in a host of sizes, shapes and thicknesses, but the majority make use of celluloid. This material provides a warmer tone than many other pick types. The 551 takes Fender’s traditional 451 shape and serves up a wider body and sharper tip, making it great for rapid-fire single-note licks.
The clue is in the name with this long-standing classic: a small profile, quick-release moulded edge and sharp tip provide the agility to see the Jazz III through the speediest of runs with ultimate precision. Two versions are available: the warm-sounding Red Nylon or brighter, sharper response of the Black Stiffo.
The DuraGrip design, from guitar string and accessory giant D’Addario, is made from Duralin, which promises to highlight the bright ‘click’ of the pick hitting the string, whether that’s playing chords on acoustic, laying down speedy single-note runs on electric or hitting a bass hard. Add in a stamped grip design, enhanced durability and choice of seven different gauges, and the DuraGrip is worth picking up. It’s available in Wide, Jazz, Sharp and Standard shapes.
Guitar players usually have to make the choice between lighter-gauge picks for strumming and heavier gauges for single-note picking, but Dava allows guitarists to possess both in a single pick - depending on where you hold them across the Control Region, Control Picks can provide a soft or hard response. There’s a choice of three materials, too: Delrin, Nylon and Gels.
An acrylic construction affords Gravity Picks a different sound and feel to a lot of other plectrums on the market. Besides offering increased grip for your fingers, they seem to ‘glide’ across the strings - great for string skipping and sweeping - and deliver a brighter tone to boot. 1,000s of variations are available, and you can easily order customised versions, too. Sizes range from 1.5mm to 3.0mm.
Players continue to swear by Dunlop’s Nylon Standards, which are known for their warm tone and durability. If you’re after a lighter-than-normal gauge, this is the best place to look: Nylons start at a seriously wobbly .38mm and .46mm, and go up to 1.0mm. They’re a handy tool to have in your arsenal for recording textures and delicate acoustic strumming.
Ernie Ball brands these ‘high performance’ picks, and it’s easy to see why: made out of Delrin for enhanced grippage, Prodigy Picks boast a machined bevelled edge and sharp point to aid speedy playing techniques by reducing drag and enhancing articulation and control. That makes them a sound choice for shred and metal players. They’re available in 1.5mm and 2.0mm gauges, in standard and mini formats.
This new take on an old favourite gives the beloved Tortex series a bevelled-edge makeover. Sharp edges and a wide angle provide the gliding movement that made Dunlop’s existing Flow picks a hit with shredders such as Andy James and John Petrucci, but here they’re paired with the traditional Tortex material for an altogether snappier response. They’re available in gauges from .50mm to 1.5mm.
You’ve probably heard of TUSQ - it’s the man-made ivory substitute that’s used in a lot of nuts and bridges. Graph Tech has also crafted picks out of the material, with a unique twist. There are three different ‘tones’ of TUSQ Pick (bright, warm and deep) in three different sizes (teardrop, standard and bi angle), each of which affects the sound that comes out of your guitar. The picks are also comfortable and hardwearing - and they make a satisfying sound when you drop ’em on a hard surface, too.
With a name like ChickenPicks, you'd expect this plectrum to be aimed squarely at country style hybrid playing right? Well, it'll handle that with ease, but this is also a great plectrum for jazz and general shredding.
The thick, precision-edged Badazz III, crafted from thermosetting plastic, comes from the Tritone III series and is available in 2mm and 2.5mm thickness. This pick is comfortable to use, with a good grip, and is versatile enough to handle everything from rock and jazz to country and metal.
Best guitar picks: Buying advice
Guitar pick shape
The shape of a guitar pick has a significant impact on how you play the guitar and should be considered carefully. Ultimately the shape affects the plectrum's surface area and, therefore, how easy it is to transition between the strings on your guitar or bass.
Strummers and acoustic guitar players often gravitate towards a larger pick size. This allows them to strum the strings without worrying about their fingers getting in the way. On the other hand, metal and jazz players often prefer a smaller pointed pick to maximise dexterity and allow them to skip between strings quickly.
Once we have determined a shape, we need to decide on the gauge. The gauge simply refers to the thickness of the pick. The general consensus is that a thinner plectrum is better for rhythm playing or strumming. In contrast, a thicker plectrum is better suited to more detailed picking or even bass playing.
What are guitar picks made of?
Finally, of course, there's the material to consider. Traditionally plectrums were made from natural materials and animal byproducts, including bone, tortoiseshell, steel, amber and wood. The first plastic guitar pick was made by D'Andrea way back in 1922, and this would go on to be the blueprint for the plectrums we use today.
Guitar picks are now primarily made from synthetic materials, including, celluloid, nylon, acrylic, delrin and even glass. Obviously, the material you choose greatly impacts your grip and tone.
Nylon and celluloid plectrums produce a warm, mellow tone perfect for acoustic guitars and 12-string guitars. Acrylic plectrums offer a brighter, more articulate sound, perfect for lead players.
If you are looking for a general pick to do a little of everything, Tortex is a good option. These picks are usually very durable and offer an even sound. There is a reason these are by far the most popular plectrums around.
It is important to remember that these are just guidelines, and there are no hard and fast rules to which is the best guitar pick for you. Experiment and try different things - you never know you may forgo the plectrum altogether and end up using a sixpence, like Brian May!